Photo: spackletoe via flickr
In a recent Haggler column, the Times’ David Segall reveals that sales associates are under so much pressure to sell add-ons like warranty plans that they’ll “walk the customer,” or get that person out of the store as quickly as possible, when they realise they can’t make the sale. It’s scary for people clinging to their low-paying jobs, and a nuisance for shoppers only after one thing, not accessories and service plans.
The Haggler points to Staple’s Market Basket system, which tracks “how many dollars worth of add-ons each staffer sells.” If a staffer doesn’t sell $200 of extra stuff on average every time, he could face “lots of night and weekend shifts or even a reduction in scheduled hours.”
As a result, a lot of staffers will pressure customers to say whether or not they’re going to buy an add-on before they bring out an item, like a computer, from inventory. If the answer is yes, the customer will get the computer no problem. If not, the staffer will pretend it’s out of stock.
Armed with this information, consumers could tip the scales in their favour, but they need to be careful. One not-so-ethical option is to call the staffer’s bluff by pretending to want to the add-ons at first, then changing their mind once the staffer retrieves it.
Another option, says Stuart Diamond, author of Getting More, a handbook on negotiating strategies, is to throw the store’s policy in its face. A smart way to play it is by asking the employee or manager point blank whether pressuring customers to buy products they don’t need is part of its business model. The customer would have even more leverage if he catches the associate in the act described above.
She could say something like, “I understand your policy is to have sales associates hit an add-on quota. However, this seems to conflict with the basic service of providing the customer with the product they asked for. Could you explain to me how this works?”
It may sound aggressive, but nine times out of 10, Diamond says it will get the associate to change his position, or at least concede defeat and offer concessions. The principle is clear: It’s Staples’ job to sell you what you’re trying to buy.
If all else fails, go elsewhere or demand to know why you can’t make the purchase. “Is it on hold? It appears to be in stock.” Chances are, the associate will be so annoyed, he’ll feel he has no choice but to ring up the sale and move on.
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